Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nelson Mandela is not dead

If you casually glance at Google Trends every morning, you will likely be starting your day with the latest misinformation from the Internet. Hey! Nelson Mandela died. Oh, wait, no he didn't. But Chris Henry did. No, he's still alive, too. (Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Henry has subsequently passed away, according to the AP and other reports.)

Trends is just reporting back to us what we're searching on using Google, not what really happened. It is certainly easy to believe people will miss this point when they see the words "Nelson Mandela dead" on a page published by Google.

With the power of social media in the hands of everyone, it's easy for people to game the system. Did the Mandela rumor come out of marketing efforts behind the new film "Invictus"? Seems plausible.

Just as I cringe when my daughter is encouraged by her teachers to use Wikipedia to research her homework (like last night when she insisted to me that the average temperature of a certain part of Canada is negative zero because it says it right there, Dad), I lament how much we trust everything we see on the Web.

("Papa says if you see it in Wikipedia, it's so," right Virginia?)

In this age of truthiness, Wikitruth and need to know instantly, perhaps all the information available to us is making us a little less well informed.